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Ashley Cimone and Moya Annece of Ashya on Handbag Designer 101 Podcast Every Tuesday

Updated: Dec 21, 2023





Emily Blumenthal

Host

00:00

Hi and welcome to the Handbag Designer 101 podcast with your host, Emily Blumenthal, handbag designer expert and handbag fairy godmother, where we cover everything about handbags, from making, marketing, designing and talking to handbag designers and industry experts about what it takes to make a successful handbag. Welcome, ashley and Moya of Ashya to Handbag Designer 101 podcast, so excited to have you guys. You don't even know.

Moya Annece

Guest

00:36

Yes, thanks for having us.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

00:38

So let's just dive right in. So, Moya, you're in Jamaica.

Moya Annece

Guest

00:43

I am.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

00:45

On purpose.

Moya Annece

Guest

00:46

On purpose On purpose.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

00:50

And Ashley, you're aware that she's in Jamaica, right?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

00:54

I'm aware that she is in Jamaica and I visit as often as I possibly can.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

00:59

So this is like some soup to notches that we need to dive right in. So are you originally from Jamaica, correct?

Moya Annece

Guest

01:07

Yes, I originally from Jamaica. I migrated to the States in the early 2000s. And how were you? I was 12 years old. Ah, so you went to school here. Yes, I went to high school here. I went to university here, hence how I met Ashley and I recently relocated back to Jamaica, specifically in Kingston, during the pandemic actually.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

01:37

So it must have been hard for you coming from Jamaica to Brooklyn. Was it Brooklyn? Yes, it was Brooklyn. So you came at 12, so you were in middle school.

Moya Annece

Guest

01:49

I was in middle school. Yeah, I was in the final year. I was about to go into the eighth grade.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

01:55

And that's a horrible time to move for anybody, because there's nothing good that happens in the eighth grade, Absolutely nothing. Anybody who reflects on their eighth grade and said it was a good time, I'm very as my son says, very sus about them, because that is just an ugly time for everybody. So the fact that your family moved and you had to be a new person and you had that lovely accent that probably people weren't so excited as we would be now?

Moya Annece

Guest

02:20

Oh no, not at all. I mean, I was definitely made fun of. I was told I came off the banana boat. I mean all the ugly immigrant jokes you can possibly think of, I got them.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

02:31

You're like I just got off a plane, but sure.

Moya Annece

Guest

02:36

Exactly. But I had to learn how to quickly, quickly assimilate and adapt to the American Well, I would say Brooklyn, New York way of life, the way I present, the way I sound. I had to change a lot because I was a kid and I felt like I didn't know any better and that was the only way that I was going to fit in and feel loved. And it didn't take me too long because kids and US Americans are very adaptable. So that's what I did in a short period of time.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

03:02

So you went to university here? Yeah, and that's where you meant the one who's in the box above you right now. You didn't pay him.

Moya Annece

Guest

03:10

Yes, ashley, and we met at the Fashion Institute of Technology as kind of stumbled into fashion school.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

03:18

That's fascinating. So you came from Jamaica, went to middle school, high school here, and you had a portfolio ready to go to FIT. What was your portfolio about? No, you didn't have a portfolio.

Moya Annece

Guest

03:28

Oh, portfolio? No, no, no, no, no such thing. Maybe I was a good writer and I wrote a compelling essay and I got into an advertising marketing communications agency. So we're not technically trained designers. So we start up on the business side.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

03:43

Fabulous. Those are my favorite kind. That was the essence of my book, because when I started I didn't know a damn thing about design and I think, in my opinion, it's almost better. Some may disagree, because the reverse engineering of trying to determine what's missing on the market, especially coming from your own personal perspective and you know, diving in that way, I think, almost gives you an edge. So, ashley, what's your story? How did you end up at FIT? And let's go back.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

04:09

Well, I'm originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was born in Illinois. Both of my parents are from Chicago, but I grew up there in Milwaukee.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

04:18

And you didn't want to stay. How I'm so worried.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

04:25

You didn't have a horrible childhood. I think one of the things that really drew me away from Milwaukee was just a love of the arts and wanting to be exposed to creative things, creative people, just on a day to day basis. So I left Milwaukee, probably not so surprisingly. My parents weren't huge advocates of going to art school or studying fine arts or things outside of like business and engineering and medicine, things like that. So I first went to HBCU, a historically black college in North Carolina called North Carolina A&T, for a year and a half.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

05:04

What are you supposed to study? Business Engineering? Oh yeah, I went to things and that didn't take, no.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

05:12

My father had high hopes of me becoming an engineer, but I didn't have and I really wanted to study something that would at least put me in the middle space between being an artist but also being a business woman. So I took the business marketing track. So you transferred. I transferred to FIT, to the Fashion Institute of Technology, once I realized that Greensboro was a small southern town that didn't have as many professional opportunities as I would have loved.

05:44

I really fell in love with the idea of working in fashion but didn't have much context around what that would actually look like. So for me it was really important to come to a city that was at the center of that industry and really understand what it was that I wanted to get myself into. So that was how I landed at FIT. I kind of tricked my parents into supporting a semester, a gap semester, where I searched for internships. I participated in an accredited program at FIT called Fashion Shows from Start Up to Runway, and I was a dresser backstage and was just blown away by the energy of New York Fashion Week back when it was in the 10th and sponsored by my friends.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

06:31

That was the good time Because it was all in one spot and when you were there you were like I am the luckiest person alive. I made it right.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

06:39

Yeah Well, I think the first fashion show that I ever dressed for was Philip Lim and Luba Tom Redd Collaboration fashion show, where everything in the show was a Luba Tom Redd.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

06:51

You're like I'm not going back ever, Are you crazy?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

06:54

No, I'm backstage and Philip Lim is doing an interview, like two steps away from me, and I was just like this is magic, I need to be a part of this. I don't know how, I don't know what shape, form or fashion, but I just need to be here. So I secretly applied to FIT and got accepted, do you?

Emily Blumenthal

Host

07:13

know how many people do that, though, because no, I mean, I've been teaching there for eight years and the transfer rate there is really high because and I've spoken to so many of these students and it's like the first year, the first chunk, is all to be the parent pleaser, or going to the local college, or going to study what I was supposed to, or going to that big school where my family was expecting, or going to an HBCU school where, you know, coming from Milwaukee, I'm sure that was the total opposite.

07:42

So you're like I'm going to immerse myself in the total, like I can feel myself, I'm one of them, and then you're like you know what? I don't want to be one of them, I want to be myself, because this is not me. So it's like these stories to go to FIT, especially for what it is and what it has to offer, and that it's a SUNY, because, as opposed to Pratt or Parsons, where like 10 times more expensive, in my opinion you get the same experience, and the FIT experience is everybody works. So the vibe is like everybody has a side gig, side hustle, and you're like behind the eight ball. If you don't like, what do you do? It's like I'm a student and and yeah, and.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

08:22

I had a lot of flashes during college. Yeah, I mean, I think, when I have both have very similar experiences where we have multiple internships, we had jobs and we were also in school and I feel like at FIT, it really felt like the city was our campus. Yeah, it was much more affordable than the other options in New York, so that was the main reason why I chose FIT.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

08:43

How did you, when your parents figured out that you were actually there, like what happened? Were they like oh, hell, no, oh.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

08:50

I convinced them to support me for the first semester that I was there, basically by comparing the oh Tuition that they were North Carolina to the tuition that they would be spending in New York, and that was helpful. But I got a job and so you paid for school. Like I'm not leaving, I'm not leaving. I got a job, I found an apartment and I just went leave.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

09:12

So that makes you like 20 by this point.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

09:15

I was 19. 19.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

09:18

Wow. So if anything like the girl from Milwaukee was hustling and you can't fight that?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

09:24

Yeah, I was definitely a hustler. I still am a hustler, as you need to do Worse is you to be 100.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

09:31

So what class did you guys meet in?

Moya Annece

Guest

09:33

I think, it might have been either communications class or some sort of marketing class. Were you sitting next to each other? Were you partnered up? Well, I remember well from my recollection. I remember being on one side of the roof and our professor presented this project, this magazine project that we had to work on, and we had to choose our teammates. And I remember looking at Ashley, I was like she seems really cool, she's really fly. This is the other black girl I want to be paired with. Yeah, and we had never spoken before and we just teamed up and the rest is history.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

10:13

What do you remember of her?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

10:15

I mean it was the same thing. I think it was both like we had girl crushes on each other, like I didn't know anyone. I had no friends, I didn't know anyone. I was only meeting people through classes and internships. But you know, I was pretty quiet when I first got here and I feel like Moe and I have very similar like energy. We were both coming from different backgrounds but I feel like we have very similar style. At the time I think the both of us used to dress really wacky. We were all kind of hats we need some like crazy accessories going on, platform shoes, like we were just like we expressive. So when seeing Moe in class, it was very much like I think energetically we are very aligned. Creatively we're very fine. So who else am I going to do this project with, especially since I didn't know anyone in the class? Right, it was definitely same exact thing like looking around, stay with this girl from across the room and being like yeah, my person.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

11:16

It's wild. You know these class projects because I feel like they are a make or break for you for the semester and then you for like. It's so important because knowing how to work with someone else is a skill. It is a skill because you have to give as much as you need to listen.

11:35

And working with a partner to me even like marriage anything, because essentially you're married like your work life. So you need to know how to like, know when to give and when to push, and recognize like OK, this might be a 10 in value of the importance to her, but to me it's a three. So for this I'm going to go with her because I know that something that might be a 10 for me she will then respect. And that is something that is not easy to come by because most partnerships end up in fire, not the good going. So that's pretty amazing because if you're able to recognize that at 20, it's such a tender age where you know you're not sure about anything, you've no control over anything, but like that first project could truly dictate that you guys can work together.

Moya Annece

Guest

12:29

Yeah, I think you got captured that so well.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

12:34

So at this point you guys are both working. You have this lovely project together. I'm sure you guys did very well, because even the practice, the presentation, like that's a whole dance. So you guys were sophomores or juniors at this point. So how did and I know you guys are probably so used to telling this story that you can ping pong it back and forth, but you're not that old, I can see so how long from where you were in school to probably getting parallel jobs and then being miserable and then figuring out like I like this and I like that, and why don't we try this and see what happens? Like talk a little bit about all that, because that's the stuff we all want to know.

Moya Annece

Guest

13:13

I guess I'll jump in first. So I think while we are working on our class projects in school, outside of school we're already thinking about all our different hustles and businesses and creative adventures, ventures that we want to do together. So there were many versions of Ashya before Ashya became Ashya with Ashley and I.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

13:34

What were some of the iterations?

Moya Annece

Guest

13:36

that you were Just different ideas. You know, it was jewelry, it was interior design, it was just different mediums of us wanting to creatively express ourselves as collaborators, as partners, and our friendship continued. Post-fit. We got our respective jobs in the fashion industry. But what were you doing?

13:58

Well, while I was in school, I had multiple internships as well. My very, very first internship was actually Kate Spade, new York. While I was at Kate Spade, new York, my bosses were like you're too cool, you need to get a job at opening ceremony or something. And then I applied and I got a job and opening ceremony and wow, did you know? School at night, internship during the week, part-time sales job at opening ceremony on the weekends and few days during the week. So it was a packed schedule and so that was like my first sort of experience in the fashion business world outside of internships.

14:36

From there I went on into the corporate world. I worked with Converse under the Nike umbrella for many years and then, while I transitioned into PR, doing PR in art and design and working for Blackframe, which had really cool clients and interested in projects and took me to our Basel and had lots of like New York Fashion Week activations and runway shows, and you know. So we did that. I did that for a long time, but while all of this is going on, ashley and I were living together.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

15:15

And I was going to ask. I was going to ask at what point did you guys move in together? Because clearly this wasn't going to happen unless the two of you could, like the end of the week, the two of you sit down like an old married couple like what are we doing? What are we doing? I don't want to do this. What are we doing?

Moya Annece

Guest

15:31

Yeah, that's exactly it. So while we had our day jobs, we would come home at night, like you just said, and start to work on our dreams as these creative collaborators. I won't monopolize this part of the story, so I'll let you jump in as well, ashley.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

15:50

Yeah, I mean, I think that my side of the story is very similar, in that I worked, I was a waitress, that's how I got by in New York, for, wow, where did you work? Had a number of different.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

16:05

Is it like where didn't I work, kind of thing?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

16:08

It's not like where it might work. When I first got here, it was kind of difficult to get a waitressing job because one of the requirements was that you had experience.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

16:14

Waitress, you think it's? Isn't that ironic? Like how am I going to get a job in New York?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

16:20

without experience in New York from here, but I finally did get a job. I worked at a couple of different, like barbecue restaurants.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

16:26

I worked Not to be named, but so many of them. I realized I was meant to be served because I was such a terrible waitress.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

16:36

I ended up costing me more money and you would think that waitress would deter me from wanting to be in the hospitality space, but it actually. I have fond memories of working in hospitality and really would like to work into that space in a different way in my future, in our future with Ashya. But we were both working, so I had my own studio in Harlem and really wanted to move to Brooklyn and finally found an apartment in Brooklyn while I was working in my first full-time job at Eddie Borgo, a jewelry designer who was a Yavoke fashion fun winner back when, before the when did matter?

Emily Blumenthal

Host

17:16

to the point where it's like ooh-ah, ooh-ah.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

17:18

Matters, but it was a really big deal. He was a costume jewelry designer who was getting into like demifine and also bags at the time and I worked there as my first full-time job, coming like straight While I was still in school. I got hired for that job and then, before that, internships in PR. I worked with modelscom, I worked with another jewelry designer, so accessories has always been the thing I've always been very interested in accessories over ready-to-wear and I was actually poached from Eddie Borgo to join the team at Net-A-Porter. So that really opened up like my understanding of wholesale and advanced designers and what it really took to build like a big business as a designer, as a retailer.

18:06

While I was at Net-A-Porter, we really were finding our ideas around Asha. This is when we were living together in Brooklyn and we started traveling together, which really was a catalyst for us deciding to make that leap Traveling together and really just having conversations around how we didn't want to stay in corporate America for much longer, like we're learning what we felt like we needed to learn and we're reaching like kind of like a A plateau. Yeah, it was very much like okay, I mean, I feel accomplished to a extent.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

18:37

I feel like I'm learning what I need to learn, but I really want to apply these things to my own ideas, and so I I may just interrupt for a second and I just want to speak to what you've achieved and I think between the pair of you it's so important to highlight that and clearly I'm going to let you get to it but that you were thoughtful and smart enough to work and get experience in everything and in all these little facets. And you know people say, oh, I did this for 10 years or I waitress it. The value of learning how to interact with people in a transactional yet authentic way is so valuable, so valuable. I mean I was a great waitress in terms of charming people, but I couldn't Like I dropped things that they always ended up charging me like I like burn more merchandise. Like they're like no, we need to deduct this. It was like a break even for the work, it was like getting your steps in for fun, but in terms of all of this, like okay, so you went to PR and then you were behind the scenes and then you learned retail and the back and then the front end and even learning.

19:46

That to me I understand people who are in jewelry, but to me it's not interesting because the PDC's are so, so small that either for costume, you need to sell so much of it to make money, or you need to sell one big piece to make money and, like the gap between is so complicated to hit those customers on a consistent basis, like you really really need to kill it for that. So I am so happy to hear that you guys were able to have this meeting of the minds on a vacation, because I'm sure that was the time where you guys were like, okay, what are we going to do? How are we going to go next? Because I know your brand is historically leather and all that's so different from what you were doing before. You know, even developing and production and manufacturing.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

20:28

Yeah, I mean I think as creatives, moin and I have always been like really interested in material and when we were thinking about what we wanted to make and like how we wanted to take up space as creatives in the design world, it was like, what materials do we love? Does it look like for us to apply, like, our creative ideas to functional product? And leather goods just made sense for us, not only because we love leather metal as materials, but also the function of bags and carrying your things and helping you move from one place to another. It just made sense for the lifestyle that we were living at the time and that we wanted.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

21:08

So at this point you guys are living together in Brooklyn. Is that you found the place and she moved in?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

21:14

Moya found the place actually, oh, I'm familiar with Brooklyn when we found our apartment, but Moya had grew up in and around Brooklyn and Long Island so she actually introduced me to the neighborhood that we moved to Flatbush like where we eventually moved to and I was tired of paying rent by myself being a woman and you really trying to hustle and keep it together in New York. So we started looking for apartments together and found this like really dope two bedroom apartment.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

21:44

Wow. So at this point, when did you guys have this moment of like all right, we're gonna do handbags.

Moya Annece

Guest

21:52

Now what? I think the moment definitely started for us on a trip that we took together. It was in India. Wow, he had a really close friend of ours are from South Africa and they were doing a yoga teacher training in Rishikesh. And they said you know what, instead of coming all the way to South Africa, are you guys coming all the way to New York? Let's just meet somewhere on the map and we're going to be in India, so let's do a friend strip. So we went to India.

22:23

It truly was not to sound cliche, like I eat, pray, love, sort of. It was a life altering trip, life altering, a tipping point. And we went there and I just remember the time that when we got to India we were on mopeds. Every day was this fun off the beaten path excursion and us just on the go and just roaming all around on different parts of India and we realized we really want to be hands-free late during these moments of our trip and we couldn't really find the bags that we were looking for that would allow us to be hands-free. Nothing that's too dainty, nothing that's too overly sporty. What's the middle ground that feels elevated, refined, but very practical and friendship. And we were post that trip on the hunt, search and searching and we couldn't find it. And we came across these bags and we said you know what? We're going to make? Funny packs. We're going to make belt bags. We're going to make really well-crafted belt bags and this is going to be the staple piece that we carry on all our trips.

23:35

And during that period of our life we were traveling so many different places all across the globe because we are just curious human beings and want to learn more culturally, you know, of all the pockets of the world, and we want to do that in style, because we're aesthetically driven people and we want to do it in a really beautiful and elevated way.

23:57

So when we came back from India we just started brainstorming ideas and creating concepts and sketching and drawing and we didn't know where exactly to start and build in a handbag business. But I remember we bought books, we started talking to all our industry peers because we worked at different businesses and friends with people in different departments and just tapped all the resources that we had from our internships, from our previous jobs, and say, hey, can you help with figuring out how to source a factory? Hey, can you figure out where do we find leathers. Hey, can you help us figure out how to create technical design drawings, tech hacks and all that? Yep, exactly so it was in the beginning. For us, it was really leaning on our support system, on our community of just figuring out how we're going to put all the pieces together to create a brand. And, before even creating a brand, creating a product.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

24:58

Did you think you made mistakes along the learning curve? Because one of the issues with new designers is they get the big eyes. It's like you go to a buffet and you put like 80 things on your plate because you're excited. So as a new designer, the typical downfall is over designing, over creating, over spending, buying the best leathers and the best this and the best that, and you pay retail and you, instead of recognizing like all the ins and outs because all those connections can get you so far, because without fail, you end up making mistakes that you're like, oh damn, that just cost us five grand, that just cost us 10 grand, or the first production comes in and it's like a disaster. So did you go through anything like that that the two of you were like what have we got ourselves into? I mean, I love the real money.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

25:51

I don't think anyone starts something new without making mistakes. We didn't know what it took 100% to be designers. We knew what we had seen, we knew what we had experienced in our professional experience, but a lot of what we were doing was just failing forward Us figuring things out, us learning from our mistakes. I think, you know, one of the things that I am great before is I don't think we've ever over designed as a brand. We started with a very narrow collection. We launched Ashya with just two styles. It was really important to us that we, while we were figuring out and really becoming more clear about what it would look like for us to expand, we only shared things that we were 100% confident in, so I am really grateful for that. We still have a pretty narrow collection, but we filled a lot with money.

26:44

I think, as an entrepreneur who hadn't had many examples outside of our professional experience of entrepreneurs in this specific space, we have very limited understanding of how much it would cost to design bags and what we should be spending and even like what resources are available or having access to certain resources. When it came to finances, we took our own savings and used our own savings. I think in the beginning it was about $30,000 between the two of us Spent that on samples, on mentorship you know, working with craftsmen to get advice, materials, you know research and development. Our first launch event for the brand, fully self-funded. We offered pre-orders to our friends and family to really get the first round of feedback that we would ever get on our designs, and our friends and family pre-ordered two styles that we had designed. There were four colorways total so that we could go into our first production round.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

27:48

But we were the colorways, do you remember?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

27:51

I mean, it was like Lapis Blue, we called the pink, I called it pink Marrakesh, a toffee brown and then an onyx black.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

28:03

What were the ones that were the most popular? Do you remember?

Moya Annece

Guest

28:07

We had two styles that were named after the cities that we visited in India, and it was the Shirai and the Anjuna. I would definitely say the Anjuna style. They're both utilitarian styles, but the Anjuna style was slightly a bit larger in terms of the pockets and the functionality of it held a bit more. So that was the one that performed well and we carried it throughout the seasons over the years. I think maybe two years ago or last year was when we dropped it from the collection.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

28:41

Oh wow, when did you guys end up figuring out that you could manufacture? Did you do domestically? Did you get your samples made here and then went overseas? Because that's like, how much time do you have that kind of story?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

28:51

I know how sampling goes, yeah our first foray into sampling was in New York. We went to pretty much everyone that we could find to understand pricing, but we sampled our bags and our hardware here in New York. To start. It's an endeavor. We eventually moved our manufacturing to Los Angeles and we're now in the process of exploring Italy and sampling what manufacturers in Italy. Our leathers have been sourced from Europe for some years now.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

29:23

Wow, so your bags have been made in LA, yeah, Wow. That's wild. So then you guys took another road trip to LA and like went down the strip to like meet with this factory that factory, Because I know there's a handful of them there too that are pretty well known, because, I don't know, New York used to be such a hub and then you know word gets out that like hey, I could go to LA and do it cheaper and be still part of the design process.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

29:50

Yeah, I mean I think it was helpful to be close to the designs in the very beginning. It was really great for our learning as self-taught designers to be close to the process and to learn about, like, the different stages that you have to go through in order to get to finish really beautiful products and then also be able to like navigate some of the functional challenges that we would have about, like, what's the experience going to be with these bags? Because we were so close to the sampling process so we could go and we could look, touch, feel, talk through everything with our manufacturer. But we actually had a relationship with the owner of the factory that we worked with in Los Angeles and they brought us to their factory in Los Angeles and I think that we've learned this and everyone learns this as they're building a business. But relationships are everything and you know, with quality being such an important part of what we do, how we maintain relationships with our customers, it was important that, wherever we went, they understood what our expectations were in delivery.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

30:56

At what point did you guys say oh my God, we're official handbag designers. It's time to quit the day jobs. That's a pause moment, isn't it?

Moya Annece

Guest

31:11

Oh gosh, I think for a very, very long time I can speak for myself. Then I experienced imposter syndrome.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

31:19

I think it's women, I don't know. I think we're predisposed to feel like that. You know, it's like you apologize. You're like, oh, and I also have this handbag line.

Moya Annece

Guest

31:28

It's the comma and, as opposed to starting with it, yeah, I mean no, I feel confident in terms of, like that's what I start with and I'm very proud of all that we've accomplished. But I would say, I don't know, three, four years into the experience, I'm like I'm doing this. Okay, I'm a designer, you know, because I started in health. I started in health, you know, I thought it was going to be a doctor or nurse, stumbled and figured out what my love was creatively.

31:56

And when I moved away from this sort of like business way of operating in a corporate space and into a designer space, it would seem like such a tremendous need because there is absolutely no one in my family that comes from a creative design entrepreneurship background. So there's a lot to grapple with in terms of my identity as a creative, as a designer and as someone who is also operating a business. So it took some years. It took some years and I think that maybe three years in or four years in, after gaining some traction with Ashya and doing different types of accelerator programs and being recognized within press and the fashion industry, you know, we realized that maybe we really will to focus our full time energies on the business and maybe that will take it to the next level and, to be honest, I was kind of like forced out of the situation, I was like let go from a job and I was like, well, what I'm going to?

Emily Blumenthal

Host

33:02

do I guess that? I guess that. I guess it was decided for me. It was decided like the universe.

Moya Annece

Guest

33:08

I said, no, this is what you need to be doing. Focus your energy on that. So, yeah, we're still holding on because in the beginning stages and still even now, like the business spends, it requires a loss of capital. So a long time it was me holding on to my full time job so that I can pop money back into the business, so we can keep things afloat and keep things pushing forward. So, yeah, kind of forced into being full time for Ashya.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

33:38

Do you feel the same way?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

33:39

I mean, we have very similar stories. It didn't happen at the same exact time, but I actually got laid off from a job in 2016, at the end of 2016. Right before we were preparing to launch Ashya. We had planned our launch event at the top of 2017.

33:56

But at the time I was dating my now husband, who was building a production company and he's a director and works in media, and I mean, I had toyed around with the idea of working with him as a producer. I'd supported some projects here and there but never really thought that that was something that I would kind of grow into and be passionate about. But as I started working more with him and then being laid off from my job because this happens, right, I'd never been laid off before Moyena once. It's something that you know, you hear people talk about. It happens Sometimes companies need to shrink, sometimes shifting leadership and things like that. But, moyena, we kind of hopped around, we went, we left places and we felt like we'd gotten what we needed to get there. Right, right, right. Go on to learn something new, because we always have this ultimate goal of being entrepreneur.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

34:49

Things happen that are beyond your control. It's like the pair of you. The universe has spoken.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

34:54

I probably choose my jobs. I'm a bit poached from companies. I don't get laid off. But it was a humbling experience, so humbling At the time. My boyfriend at the time was like you should just come work with me. He like I know that you're planning to launch this brand. Being a freelancer will give you flexibility with your time so you can do what you need to do for your brand. And so I started freelancing as a producer and then building a production company with my now husband and that became like my supplementary income while we were launching. So, yeah, I've had a bit out in the world all alone, swinging out there, taking chances for the last six years, but it's been a really beautiful experience, really challenging, but really beautiful oh yeah, how were you able, between the two of you, to grow your D2C business and then start thinking like, should we sell two stores, should we focus more on D2C?

Emily Blumenthal

Host

35:54

And then that famous Michael Kors collaboration that came like and what did that do? So let's talk a little bit about that.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

36:02

Well, we actually started in the wholesale space. We have both come from working with brands and then working with like I worked with one of the largest e-commerce retailers of luxury women's wear Right so Net-A-Porter. So we had an understanding of wholesale. We had an understanding like basic understanding of merchandising and pricing and creating a structure which is so lucky.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

36:29

So lucky Because that learning part of the state, so like you were looking at, the state and yeah, it's a really steep learning curve.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

36:37

but we had a basic understanding of what it took for a brand to work with retailers, so we structured our pricing in the very beginning so that we could work at wholesale, and then Moya was able to tap some of her relationships to get us our first stock is.

Moya Annece

Guest

36:51

Who was it? It was actually the Standard Hotel, wow yeah. So they used to be my clients when I worked at this Creative Communications Agency and we would have a lot of shop events there and I built a really great relationship with the retail director there. And when we had our first friends and family, first friends and family debut launched for the brand, we invited a handful of like buyers and the Standard was one of them and she came and she was like you know, let's start you guys all to consignment and then see how it goes and we'll consider a buy. And yeah, we were at the shop at the Standard Hotel our very first year of launching, which was really cool because we had a lucky Again.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

37:34

I always tell my students like today's classmates are tomorrow's colleagues and if you learn early on to be humble and kind and responsible with everybody you meet, you just don't know where those relationships will take you and when saying like, oh, as a result of that, you were able to invite them and because you're you, they actually came, because invited is one thing, showing up is another. We all know that. So, between the two of you as a dynamic duo, and the relationships and the hustle and the generosity and, like you know, people knew that you guys were hardworking and good people, so they would come and reciprocate the favor if you presented an opportunity to come to something that you guys did together. So clearly that was the catalyst for people to want more 100%.

Moya Annece

Guest

38:20

super grateful. I think that Ashley and I are genuinely augmented people. I think so. You look it. You know, when I meet people it's never with the like what can you do for me? It's like synergetically 100%. Can you see the light? Can you see the light? And in our values, how we see the world, and that's just how we navigate the spaces that we're in. And I think, by being just who we are, people have gravitated towards that, have supported us and been generous with information and resource steering. So I mean we just wouldn't be here without the community support.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

39:03

How did Michael Kors collab happen?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

39:05

Well, that kind of came out of nowhere. I'm not gonna fool you. It was a really incredible, just opportunity to present it to himself. We got a cold email from the Michael Kors team to hello at Ashya after some years of us having been in the retail space and starting to build our direct consumer business. But we got a cold email that said that Michael wanted to meet us and we thought it was a joke. At first we thought that I liked it, we thought it was spam and we're like is this real?

Emily Blumenthal

Host

39:40

But obviously like responded very quickly to see whether it was spam and this was during the pandemic, wasn't it? This was during the pandemic, it was 2020. 2020. 2021. Oh, it came out in 2021. It came out in 2022 last year. Oh, it did OK.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

39:59

Gotcha, it was January of 2022. It was originally supposed to come out during the holidays of 2021. But we pushed it to January. Good thought, very smart yeah, to make it more evergreen.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

40:12

Well, also during holiday everything gets lost, so that was smart.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

40:16

Things get lost. You're competing with holiday sales, you're competing with everything that everybody's putting out in the world, and we really wanted it to be a special moment, and so did the Michael Kors team and Michael, so it came out in 2022. But in 2021, at the top of the year, we got the cold email and within two days we were on a Zoom call with Michael Kors, which was just like. I think that for me, was a big aha moment. I feel like before that I definitely felt like I was a designer battling with little imposter syndrome, but now you're a brand.

40:55

Well, I think, to be recognized by someone that has so much skin in the game and that is so successful in the design world for us was like, I think, a really big boost of confidence and really reaffirming that we were on the path. You know what Michael had expressed that he learned about our brand and his research and looking for a brand to collaborate with to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the collection, and that he really loved what we were doing and he loved the functionality of our product. He loved that it was unisex and he kind of went down this laundry list of all the things that he knew about what we were doing, what he respected, and it was just really really refreshing.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

41:37

The two of you guys texting back and forth like oh my god, oh my god.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

41:43

I think I kind of got off the call and like screamed Like I can't believe this just happened. But it was just, I think, energetically. We all just really got along Like we actually had like a fun conversation. You know we're joking with each other and really just talking about what we love about design.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

42:00

Can I ask you a question, though totally specific to this? So Michael Kors, big brand, asia, small brand yeah, you dictated the terms, or did they inform you these are the terms how this partnership is going to work? Like were you able to push back and say actually, how did that work?

Moya Annece

Guest

42:16

It was very much a collaborative experience from beginning to Amazing From the contracting, the back and forth, from the design, ideas like jumping on calls with Michael Kors going through-.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

42:30

Who produced it? You guys produced it or they produced it?

Moya Annece

Guest

42:32

They definitely produced. We yeah the capacity to produce at the level that Michael Kors is producing, because it was-. How many units was it? Do you remember?

Ashley Cimone

Guest

42:43

I think it was about 4,500. Maybe, like just shot, 5,000 units, yeah, but it was spread globally.

Moya Annece

Guest

42:52

So, yeah, where we are now, we can have the capacity at that moment to produce at the level of Michael Kors. But it was definitely a collaborative experience, for sure, and it was really beautiful to be able to be in a design call with Michael Kors presenting our ideas and he's coming back to us with very specific point of view that we didn't even take into consideration with some of our designs and it was just like what.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

43:16

What was he saying?

Moya Annece

Guest

43:16

Were you like, oh, I didn't think of that Well one of my favorite feedback that I got from him was like your bags are very north-south and we were like what I love a north-south bag.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

43:28

North-south is my jam. Honestly, I got to tell you that's one of the things that I love most about your bags, because not enough people do a north-south bag and that's my shit, and I don't have my bag here, but it is an undervalued silhouette, especially at a crossbody. So I applaud your north-southness, thank you. It's the up-down versus right-left, east-west, and most people say, oh, it's an east-west bag and I'm like screw east-west, we've done enough east-west. So did he say we need more east-west? And you were like, aha, aha.

44:00

And then I was like oh, oh.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

44:02

Oh, no, yeah, I think he was just more so. Speaking to the functionality of the bag, I love a north-south. It's important also the sizing and how it would fit onto different body types. So we were just thinking about refining the function of designs that we already had made. So they essentially borrowed designs that were already in our collection and Moyan and I just kind of reimagined the designs and made them to create something that was special and specific to my pores. In the beginning of the conversation, we were to design a holiday collection that had metallics and things like that in there and we to Moyan's point, why it was extremely collaborative because they really did take into consideration who we were as a brand, what was important to us and what we wanted to communicate and kind of our first global coming out as designers. So we came back to them. We don't actually want to use these colors.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

45:01

We don't actually want to use. I was going to say metallics is not Asia, Not us. It might be metallic, but the bags are not.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

45:08

So we're like we actually want to make something that feels very evergreen, that feels very classic, that could kind of stay in the collection forever if we wanted it to, and that people would really come back and remember who Asia was and what we designed for Michael 4. So they're like OK, we'll go away and figure out what we want to do, and then they come back to us and we had our meeting with Michael. What we presented to him, what our thoughts were, which was really trying to find a bridge between where our design inspirations come from and the legacy that he's built, with Michael 4 as a label.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

45:42

Wild, so I'm sure that had an impact on your brand. Oh yeah, so that came out January 2022. We're now as far as design standpoint. It's like 2024. Where you are today, based on where that happened and what's to come.

Moya Annece

Guest

46:02

Well, coming off the heels of the Michael Kores collaboration. It definitely brought a lot of visibility to the brand. I think that for a long time we've made, We've had visibility in the New York space, the LA space, various cities throughout the US, so it really put us on a global map. Because we were in China, we were in Europe, I don't believe we were in Australia, so wherever these Michael stores were globally. So I think that was a significant impact in terms of the brand equity. People are recognizing us more. So that was amazing.

46:38

But now I think that Asia, when we started, had always envisioned ourselves scaling into the travel space. We've always imagined ourselves sitting at the intersection of the fashion but also travel experiences, and what we are garing up for now in the future, is expanding more into the travel space. It's like what does a weekender bag look like? What does expanding into the luggage business looks like for us, and creating a travel lifestyle brand that has all these different touch points. So that has always been a dream and goal for us when we started, like Ashley had said, we've always been interested in accessories it was never ready to wear. We never imagined ourselves as when we start to get the brand we're going to expand into clothes, shoes and jewelry and the traditional way in a lot of independent and fashion brand scale. So we're very much on that route right now when having other interesting global partnership conversations fingers crossed, God willing, we get that and that will just really blast us off into a new space which I'm really, really excited to play in.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

47:56

I think that's smart. Number one travel. There's a lot of money in travel and especially from the perspective of what the pair of you bring, because travel is saturated. But, depending from where you're looking, especially bringing a new voice, your bags, your style, your aesthetic I think there's a massive opportunity and I think, again, people get the big eyes in terms of brand expansion.

48:22

I want to do this, I want to do that, but a parallel is so complicated because of sizing. Shoes are so complicated because of science, math and sizing. So anything of the time, value of money and the labor you need to put in for the learning curve, in my opinion, is not worth it unless you license it out and have someone else do it for you, where you can't keep that on. And again, like I did that when I launched my handbag line, I went into traditional bags. I had a solution bag. I didn't know anything about it, I did aid up all my profit and I, like as far as I was concerned, lost time in terms of market share, whatever you want to call it. From that learning curve and after being in something for as long as you guys have to continue on the path strategically, it just makes so much more sense and I think, based on the aesthetic of your brand, I would buy into it and think like, oh, that box is already checked. Therefore, the space for expansion makes so much more sense.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

49:18

I appreciate you doing that for us. It's been really important for us to be really clear on the direction that we've been going. You have to be, you have to be, and that's also why we've been expanding very slowly, like we'll introduce a new style maybe once or twice a year. We're never going to introduce these big, large collections, especially because we're in bags and it's not really necessary. It's not really small. Our bodies, our silhouettes are evergreen and could just be reintroduced to new colorways and new materials.

49:49

It really gives us the opportunity to just perfect our design and then also be really specific about how we're growing the collection. It also helps with our partners and you like strategic partners that we have our retailers like really understand where to place us. Yeah, and then I think it also keeps things clear for our customer. So, as we're growing, it's really important that we're clear with our messaging. We're in the early stages of developing investor pitches. Well, our investor pit. We are going to be fundraising in 2024. And we're really looking to find partners who can see the vision with us and help us bring it to life.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

50:26

Okay, well, ladies, this has been amazing. We definitely need to have more conversation offline, so I love what you guys have created, and Ashya, I think, has its own identity, which is really, really hard to do. So when you speak to who this Ashya customer, I mean, you have a very clear picture of who they are, what their lifestyle, what they eat, drink, sleep, travel, and that is something that is so valuable to invest in, the pair of you as designers, but also as a brand. So I want to thank you both for sharing your story. How can we follow you? Learn more, buy Ashya bags. Please, share away.

Ashley Cimone

Guest

51:09

Find us on Instagram. It's at ajaashaco. That is also our website address, our URL, so ashaco. We also can be found at Nordstrom nationally and also on their e-commerce website with Saks Fifth Avenue in their men's department, and on their website on Shopop and then some select boutiques around the States.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

51:36

Amazing Ladies. Ashley Moeya, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure having you on the Handbag Designer 1-1 podcast. Can't wait to see what you guys are gonna do next. I know I'm following for sure. Thank you so much.

Moya Annece

Guest

51:48

Thank you so much for having us, Emily. This was amazing.

Emily Blumenthal

Host

51:52

Thanks for listening. Don't forget to rate and review, and follow us on every single platform at HandbagDesigner. Thanks so much. See you next time.

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